Archive for Hall of Fame

JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Roger Clemens

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Roger Clemens has a reasonable claim as the greatest pitcher of all time. Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Grover Cleveland Alexander spent all or most of their careers in the dead-ball era, before the home run was a real threat, and pitched while the color line was still in effect, barring some of the game’s most talented players from participating. Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver pitched when scoring levels were much lower and pitchers held a greater advantage. Koufax and 2015 inductees Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez didn’t sustain their greatness for nearly as long. Greg Maddux didn’t dominate hitters to nearly the same extent.

Clemens, meanwhile, spent 24 years in the majors and racked up a record seven Cy Young awards, not to mention an MVP award. He won 354 games, led his leagues in the Triple Crown categories (wins, strikeouts, and ERA) a total of 16 times, and helped his teams to six pennants and a pair of world championships.

Alas, whatever claim “The Rocket” may have on such an exalted title is clouded by suspicions that he used performance-enhancing drugs. When those suspicions came to light in the Mitchell Report in 2007, Clemens took the otherwise unprecedented step of challenging the findings during a Congressional hearing, but nearly painted himself into a legal corner; he was subject to a high-profile trial for six counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to Congress. After a mistrial in 2011, he was acquitted on all counts the following year. But despite the verdicts, the specter of PEDs won’t leave Clemens’ case anytime soon, even given that in March 2015, he settled the defamation lawsuit filed by former personal trainer Brian McNamee for an unspecified amount.

Amid the ongoing Hall of Fame-related debates over hitters connected to PEDs — most prominently Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa — it’s worth remembering that the chemical arms race involved pitchers as well, leveling the playing field a lot more than some critics of the aforementioned sluggers would admit. The voters certainly haven’t forgotten that when it comes to Clemens, whose share of the vote has approximated that of Bonds. Clemens debuted with 37.6% of the vote in 2013 and only in 2016 began making significant headway, climbing to 45.2% thanks largely to the Hall’s purge of voters more than 10 years removed from covering the game. Like Bonds, he surged above 50% — a historically significant marker towards future election — in 2017, benefiting from voters rethinking their positions in the wake of the election of Bud Selig. The former commissioner’s roles in the late-1980s collusion scandal and in presiding over the proliferation of PEDs within the game dwarf the impact of individual PED users and call into question the so-called “character clause.”

Clemens’ march towards Cooperstown has stalled somewhat in the two years since, as he’s added just 5.4% to reach 59.5%. Whether or not the open letter from Hall of Fame Vice Chairman Joe Morgan pleading with voters not to honor players connected to steroids had an impact, the end result is time run off the clock. He still has a shot at reaching 75% before his eligibility runs out in 2022, but like Bonds, needs to regain momentum.

2020 BBWAA Candidate: Roger Clemens
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Roger Clemens 139.6 65.9 102.5
Avg. HOF SP 73.2 49.9 61.5
W-L SO ERA ERA+
354-184 4,672 3.12 143
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Barry Bonds

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

If Roger Clemens has a reasonable claim as the greatest pitcher of all time, then the same goes for Barry Bonds as the greatest position player. Babe Ruth played in a time before integration, and Ted Williams bridged the pre- and post-integration eras, but while both were dominant at the plate, neither was much to write home about on the base paths or in the field. Bonds’ godfather, Willie Mays, was a big plus in both of those areas, but he didn’t dominate opposing pitchers to the same extent. Bonds used his blend of speed, power, and surgical precision in the strike zone to outdo them all. He set the single-season home run record with 73 in 2001 and the all-time home run record with 762, reached base more often than any player this side of Pete Rose, and won a record seven MVP awards along the way.

Despite his claim to greatness, Bonds may have inspired more fear and loathing than any ballplayer in modern history. Fear because opposing pitchers and managers simply refused to engage him at his peak, intentionally walking him a record 688 times — once with the bases loaded — and giving him a free pass a total of 2,558 times, also a record. Loathing because even as a young player, he rubbed teammates and media the wrong way and approached the game with a chip on his shoulder because of the way his father, three-time All-Star Bobby Bonds, had been driven from the game due to alcoholism. The younger Bonds had his own issues off the field, as allegations of physical and verbal abuse of his domestic partners surfaced during his career.

As he aged, media and fans turned against Bonds once evidence — most of it illegally leaked to the press by anonymous sources — mounted that he had used performance-enhancing drugs during the latter part of his career. With his name in the headlines more regarding his legal situation than his on-field exploits, his pursuit and eclipse of Hank Aaron’s 33-year-old home run record turned into a joyless drag, and he disappeared from the majors soon after breaking the record in 2007 despite ranking among the game’s most dangerous hitters even at age 43. Not until 2014 did he even debut as a spring training guest instructor for the Giants. The reversal of his felony obstruction of justice conviction in April 2015 freed him of legal hassles, and he spent the 2016 season as the Marlins’ hitting coach, though he was dismissed at season’s end.

Bonds is hardly alone among Hall of Fame candidates with links to PEDs. As with Clemens, the support he has received during his first seven election cycles has been far short of unanimous, but significantly stronger than the showings of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, either in their ballot debuts or since. Debuting at 36.2% in 2013, Bonds spun his wheels for two years before climbing to 44.3% in 2016 and 53.8% in 2017 thanks to a confluence of factors. In the wake of both Bonds and Clemens crossing the historically significant 50% threshold, the Hall — which in 2014 unilaterally truncated candidacies from 15 years to 10 so as to curtail debate over the PED-linked ones — made its strongest statement yet that it would like to avoid honoring them in the form of a plea to voters from vice chairman Joe Morgan not to honor players connected to steroids. The letter was not well received by voters, but in the two cycles since, Bonds has gained just 5.3 percentage points. Like Clemens, he needs to recapture his momentum to have a shot at reaching 75% by the time his eligibility runs out in 2022.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Barry Bonds
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Barry Bonds 162.8 72.7 117.8
Avg. HOF LF 65.5 41.6 53.6
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,935 762 .298/.444/.607 182
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Billy Wagner

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2016 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Billy Wagner was the ultimate underdog. Undersized and from both a broken home and an impoverished rural background, he channeled his frustrations into throwing incredibly hard — with his left hand, despite being a natural righty, for he broke his right arm twice as a child. Scouts overlooked him because he wasn’t anywhere close to six feet tall, but they couldn’t disregard his dominance over collegiate hitters using a mid-90s fastball. The Astros made him a first-round pick, and once he was converted to a relief role, his velocity went even higher.

Thanks to outstanding lower-body strength, coordination, and extraordinary range of motion, the 5-foot-10 Wagner was able to reach 100 mph with consistency — 159 times in 2003, according to The Bill James Handbook. Using a pitch learned from teammate Brad Lidge, he kept blowing the ball by hitters into his late 30s to such an extent that he owns the record for the highest strikeout rate of any pitcher with at least 800 innings. He was still dominant when he walked away from the game following the 2010 season, fresh off posting a career-best ERA.

Lacking the longevity of Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, Wagner never set any saves records or even led his league once, and his innings total is well below those of every enshrined reliever. Hoffman’s status as the former all-time saves leader helped him get elected in 2018, but Wagner, who created similar value in his career, has major hurdles to surmount given that he’s maxed out at 16.7% in four years on the ballot, that after receiving a 5.6% jump in this past cycle. Nonetheless, his advantages over Hoffman — and virtually every other reliever in history when it comes to rate stats — provide a compelling reason to study his career more closely. Given how far he’s come, who wants to bet against Billy Wags?

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Billy Wagner
Pitcher Career Peak JAWS WPA WPA/LI IP SV ERA ERA+
Billy Wagner 27.7 19.8 23.7 29.1 17.9 903 422 2.31 187
Avg HOF RP 39.1 26.0 32.5 30.1 20.0
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons Are Now Hall of Famers

SAN DIEGO — To the extent that the Hall of Fame’s Era Committees exist to right past electoral wrongs — a debatable proposition given some of the results over the years, to say nothing of those from its late and unlamented predecessor, the Veterans Committee — the Modern Baseball Era Committee in one fell swoop fixed the Hall’s most glaring and embarrassing omission on Sunday while also giving hope to candidates squeezed off the writers’ ballot before their cases could get a full airing. By electing former MLB Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller, the voters finally enshrined the most important non-player and one of the most impactful figures in the game’s history. By electing eight-time All-Star catcher Ted Simmons, they finally honored a candidate who quite shockingly received less than 5% of the vote from the BBWAA in his first ballot appearance and was thus ineligible for future consideration in that context.

Miller and Simmons were the two honorees elected from among a slate of 10 candidates who made their greatest impact upon the game during the 1970-87 period. Each member of the 16-voter panel consisting of Hall of Fame players, executives, and media members/historians was allowed to vote for up to four candidates, with 75% needed for election. Simmons received 13 votes (81.3%), Miller 12 (75%). This was the third election cycle of the new staggered Era Committees — via which more recent eras are considered with greater frequency — since a 2016 reorganization. Each one has selected two honorees, and five of the six have been living ex-players — which is five more than were elected by the expanded Veterans Committee and the older Era Committees from 2003-16.

As executive director of the MLBPA from 1966 to ’82, Miller revolutionized the game, overseeing its biggest change since integration via the dismantling of the reserve clause and the dawn of free agency, thus shifting a century-old balance of power from the owners to the players. Miller helped the union secure a whole host of other important rights as well, from collective bargaining to salary arbitration to the use of agents in negotiations. During his tenure, the average salary of a major league player rose from $19,000 to over $240,000, and the MLBPA became the strongest labor union in the country. Read the rest of this entry »


Previewing Sunday’s Modern Baseball Era Committee’s Vote

Earlier this week, while I was still sleeping off a red-eye flight from hell, the Hall of Fame announced the members of this year’s Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, which on Sunday will convene in San Diego to discuss the 10 candidates and cast their ballots (each voter can list up to four names). The voting results will be announced that evening live on MLB Network’s MLB Tonight at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT, and any candidates elected will be inducted alongside those from this year’s BBWAA ballot cycle (whose results will be announced January 21) next July 21 in Cooperstown.

The makeup of the 16-member committee is news unto itself due to the small committee process’s long history of questionable results tied to cronyism. I’ve long documented the ridiculous selections by the Frankie Frisch– and Bill Terry-led Veterans Committees of the late 1960s and early ’70s, first at Baseball Prospectus and then in The Cooperstown Casebook. Last year’s shocking election of Harold Baines added to the litany; let Dan Shaughnessy, with whom I rarely find agreement on baseball matters, singe your eyebrows with this description from earlier this week: “It turned out to be a Richard Daley-esque, back-channel, Cook County bag job orchestrated by Baines’s former White Sox bosses, Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony LaRussa, who were part of the 16-voter committee.” Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Bobby Abreu

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Bobby Abreu could do just about everything. A five-tool player with dazzling speed, a sweet left-handed stroke, and enough power to win a Home Run Derby, he was also one of the game’s most patient, disciplined hitters, able to wear down a pitcher and unafraid to hit with two strikes. While routinely reaching traditional seasonal plateaus — a .300 batting average (six times), 20 homers (nine times), 30 steals (six times), 100 runs scored and batted in (eight times apiece) — he was nonetheless a stathead favorite for his ability to take a walk (100 or more eight years in a row) and his high on-base percentages (.400 or better eight times). And he was durable, playing 151 games or more in 13 straight seasons. “To me, Bobby’s Tony Gwynn with power,” said Phillies hitting coach Hal McRae in 1999.

“Bobby was way ahead of his time [with] regards to working pitchers,” said his former manager Larry Bowa when presenting him for induction into the Phillies Wall of Fame earlier this year. “In an era when guys were swinging for the fences, Bobby never strayed from his game. Because of his speed, a walk would turn into a double. He was cool under pressure, and always in control of his at-bats. He was the best combination of power, speed, and patience at the plate.” Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Gary Sheffield

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2015 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Wherever Gary Sheffield went, he made noise, both with his bat and his voice. For the better part of two decades, he ranked among the game’s most dangerous hitters, a slugger with a keen batting eye and a penchant for contact that belied his quick, violent swing. For even longer than that, he was one of the game’s most outspoken players, unafraid to speak up when he felt he was being wronged and unwilling to endure a situation that wasn’t to his liking. He was a polarizing player, and hardly one for the faint of heart.

At the plate, Sheffield was viscerally impressive like few others. With his bat twitching back and forth like the tail of a tiger waiting to pounce, he was pure menace in the batter’s box. He won a batting title, launched over 500 home runs — 14 seasons with at least 20 and eight with at least 30 — and put many a third base coach in peril with some of the most terrifying foul balls anyone has ever seen. For as violent as his swing may have been, it was hardly wild; not until his late thirties did he strike out more than 80 times in a season, and in his prime, he walked far more often than he struck out. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Manny Ramirez

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2017 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

A savant in the batter’s box, Manny Ramirez could be an idiot just about everywhere else — sometimes amusingly, sometimes much less so. The Dominican-born slugger, who grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan, stands as one of the greatest hitters of all time, a power-hitting right-handed slugger who spent the better part of his 19 seasons (1993–2011) terrorizing pitchers. A 12-time All-Star, Ramirez bashed 555 home runs and helped the Indians and the Red Sox reach two World Series apiece, adding a record 29 postseason homers along the way. He was the World Series MVP for Boston in 2004, when the club won its first championship in 86 years.

For all of his prowess with the bat, Ramirez’s lapses — Manny Being Manny — both on and off the field are legendary. There was the time in 1997 that he “stole” first base, returning to the bag after a successful steal of second because he thought Jim Thome had fouled off a pitch… the time in 2004 that he inexplicably cut off center fielder Johnny Damon’s relay throw from about 30 feet away, leading to an inside-the-park home run… the time in 2005 when he disappeared mid-inning to relieve himself inside Fenway Park’s Green Monster… the time in 2008 that he high-fived a fan mid-play between catching a fly ball and doubling a runner off first… and so much more. Read the rest of this entry »


A 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot of Your Own — and a Schedule of Profiles

Between a very interesting Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot and Thanksgiving travel (which in my case took a turn for the worse), it’s taken me longer than usual to shift into high gear with my JAWS-flavored profiles of the 32 candidates on the BBWAA’s 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. While the navigation bar atop each profile can guide you to the series’ installments thus far, it’s worth laying out a tentative schedule as well as providing a clearinghouse for a bit of business, including the reprise of a very cool feature our developer, Sean Dolinar, helped us pull off last year.

In the spirit of our annual free agent contract crowdsourcing, FanGraphs invites registered users to fill out their own virtual Hall of Fame ballots. You must be signed in to vote, and you may only vote once. To replicate the actual voting process, you may vote for anywhere from zero to 10 players; ballots with more than 10 won’t be counted. You may change your ballot until the deadline, which is December 31, 2019, the same as that of the actual BBWAA voters, who have to schlep their paper ballot to the mailbox.

The ballot is here and contains all 32 candidates (sorry, no write-ins for those fixated on Pete Rose). We’ve got tables of career stats for hitters and pitchers, if that helps, as well as a checkbox that allows you to see the stats of those already enshrined. As with last year, I’ll write up the crowdsourcing results sometime in early January, when we’re all jonesing for Hall news in advance of the announcement of the official results on January 21. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Derek Jeter

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

No other player, not even 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Mariano Rivera — the first player ever elected unanimously by the writers — typified the Yankees’ late-1990s resurgence and evolution into a dynasty more than Derek Jeter. A 1992 first-round pick out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, the 6-foot-3 shortstop seemed not only to be built for stardom but engineered to withstand the spotlight’s glare. Famously instilled with a level-headedness by his parents, who during his childhood made him sign code-of-conduct contracts, he pulled off the remarkable feat of simultaneously exuding a cocky charisma and an off-the-charts baseball IQ while remaining completely enigmatic even in the country’s largest media market. Not only did he avoid mental mistakes on the field, he ably evaded virtually every controversy that surrounded the Yankees; by the time he turned 29 years old, he had been named team captain. During his two decades in pinstripes, he played a pivotal role for 16 playoff teams, seven pennant winners, and five champions. Not until he was 34, deep into his 14th season, did he play a game in which his team had been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.

With an inside-out swing that yielded consistently high batting averages and on-base percentages, Jeter was a hit machine, an ideal table-setter among the Bronx Bombers. In 15 of his 18 full seasons, he collected at least 179 hits, and 13 times, he scored at least 100 runs. He did both with such consistency and longevity that he ranks sixth all-time in hits (3,465) — not just more than any other shortstop, but more than any other infielder — and 11th in runs scored (1,923). Though he had less power than Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, the pair with whom he formed the “Holy Trinity” of shortstops, he was fully capable of hitting a well-timed home run. In fact, his 20 postseason homers are third all-time, yet one of the rare October (and November, ahem) records that he does not hold. He wasn’t without flaws, of course. Though his strong arm, sure hands, and low error totals helped him pass the eye tests of casual fans, broadcasters, and even the opposing managers who bestowed five Gold Gloves upon him, his defensive metrics are brutal. Even so, they’re outweighed by contributions in every other aspect of the game.

Thanks to his 3,000-plus hits and his collection of championship rings, Jeter will have no trouble gaining first-ballot entry to the Hall of Fame. With the precedent of non-unanimity finally broken, the primary suspense of this cycle is whether he’ll match Rivera by receiving the full 100% from the writers. Secondarily, and more frustratingly, the possibility exists that his presence on the ballot will overshadow other worthy candidates. Either way, he’ll be standing on the dais in Cooperstown next summer. Read the rest of this entry »